Monday, 17 January 2011
Author: Robert Harris
Number of pages: 421
Started: 10 January 2011
Finished: 17 January 2011
LATE ONE NIGHT a long time ago - before you were even born, boy - a bodyguard stood on the verandah at the back of a big house in Moscow, smoking a cigarette. It was a cold night, without stars or moon, and he smoked for the warmth of it as much as anything else, his big, farm lad's hands cupped around the burning cardboard tube of a Georgian papirosa.
This bodyguard's name was Papu Rapava. He was twenty-five years old, a Mingrelian, from the north-eastern shoreland of the Black Sea. And as for the house - well, fortress would have been a better word. It was a tsarist mansion, half a block long, in the diplomatic sector, not far from the river. Somewhere in the frosty darkness at the bottom of the walled garden was a cherry orchard, and beyond it a wide street - Sadovaya-Kudrinskaya - and beyond that the grounds of the Moscow Zoo.
There was no traffic. Very faintly in the distance, when it was quiet, like now, and the wind was in the right direction, you could hear the howling of caged wolves.
By this time the girl had stopped screaming, which was a mercy, for it had got on Rapava's nerves. She couldn't have been more than fifteen, not much older than his own kid sister, and when he had picked her up and delivered her, she had looked at him - looked at him - well, to be honest, boy, he preferred not to talk of it, even now, nearly fifty years later.
Anyway, the girl had finally shut up and he was enjoying his cigarette when the telephone rang. This must have been about two a.m. He would never forget it. Two o'clock in the morning on the second of March, I953. In the cold stillness of the night the bell sounded as loud as a fire alarm.
Read a longer excerpt here.
When historian Fluke Kelso learns of the existence of a secret notebook belonging to Josef Stalin he is determined to track it down, whatever the consequences. From the violent political intrigue and decadence of modern Moscow he heads north - to the vast forests surrounding the White Sea port of Archangel, and a terrifying encounter with Russia's unburied past.
What I thought:
This is the second Robert Harris book that I have read, and I think it is fair to say that it did not measure up to The Ghost. This book was based around Stalin, and pretty much all of the action took place within the space of a day (which was quite a long day given that the book is over 400 pages long).
The book was very readable, but was not as page-turning as other books that I have read. I also found it a bit complicated to keep up with all of the characters at times. I would like to read more Robert Harris, but if this had been the first that I had read, I think I would have passed future ones by, as it was not overly memorable or striking.